Date: Mon Jan 06 2003 - 09:43:15 EST
Happy new-year to you all! This is a response mainly to Paul Zarembka’s [OPE- L:8261]. Paul writes: “And if value is non-measurable (Althusser claims this also), then it is hard for me to understand what exactly we are supposed to be offering theoretically to the working class, e.g., as to what surplus value is when it cannot be measured”. By accepting this statement, I wonder if we can work as Marxist economic historians and claim that the ancient Greek-Roman societies were indeed class societies in which the slaves were subjected to exploitation, as they worked both for themselves and the slave-owner, who appropriated a surplus product, i.e. the product that the slaves produced during surplus labour time, beyond the labour time necessary for the production of their own means of subsistence. Since it seems to me that it is impossible to measure the surplus labour time in slave-ownership societies in general, and more so in those that actually existed in the past, eg. in Pericles’s Athens. Does this mean that there cannot be enough theoretical foundation of the thesis that class exploitation did actually exist in those societies, (and so ancient Athens or Rome shall be regarded as classless societies)? Besides, I believe that Marxist economic theory contains much more than the simple idea that in all class societies there is production and appropriation (by the ruling classes) of a surplus product, i.e. surplus labour. It is not enough to stick to this idea, then identify labour expended with value, further consider one hour of labour (with socially average characteristics of productivity and intensity) to be the measure of value and (in case that one feels that a further empirical verification is needed) devote oneself in proving (by direct measurement or mathematical calculations) that the sum of values equals the sum of prices and simultaneously the sum of surplus values equals that of profits. Marxist economic theory exceeds this point by focusing on the specific historical forms of surplus product and surplus labour; this is indeed what distinguishes capitalism from any other society of surplus product appropriation (i.e. from any other class society). To stick to the idea of surplus labour (and its measurement) means, I think, to miss Marx’s main point. As Marx writes, “Capital has not invented surplus-labour. Wherever a part of society possesses the monopoly of the means of production, the labourer, free or not free, must add to the working-time necessary for his own maintenance an extra working-time in order to produce the means of subsistence for the owners of the means of production, whether this proprietor be the Athenian καλός κ’ αγαθός (kalos k’ agathos), an Etruscan theocrat, a civis Romanus, a Norman baron, an American slave-owner, a Wallachian Boyard, a modern landlord or a capitalist” (Marx 1990 [Capital, Volume one, Penguin Classics, London]: 344- 45). “The essential difference between the various economic forms of society, between, for instance, a society based on slave-labour, and one based on wage- labour, lies only in the mode in which this surplus-labour is in each case extracted from the immediate producer, the worker” (Marx 1990: 325). The notion of surplus value does not simply refer, therefore, to a quantity of surplus labour expended. It is a complex key notion which deciphers the structure of the capitalist relation of class exploitation and domination. In this context, Marx’s theory of value constitutes a monetary theory of value. We do not have “two worlds”, on the one hand value and on the other money (as a means of measurement or a means of circulation of values). The “two worlds” picture is typical not only for Classical and Neoclassical theory, but also for some interpretations of Marx. However, I believe that it fails to conceptualise the Marxian notion of value. Value is determined by abstract labour; however, in my comprehension of Marx, abstract labour does not constitute an empirical magnitude, which could be measured by the stopwatch. It is an abstraction, which is constituted (it acquires a tangible existence) in the process of exchange. ITS DIRECT AND SOLE FORM OF APPEARANCE IS MONEY. Value can be expressed only by means of money. In the 1859 CONTRIBUTION… , in the GRUNDRISSE, and in Parts 1-3 of Volume 1 of CAPITAL Marx illustrates the tenets of his monetary theory of value, which constitutes a radical critique of Ricardo’s non-monetary approach of “labour expended”. On the empirically non-tangible (by itself non-measurable) character of value Marx writes: “The reality of the value of commodities differs in this respect from Dame Quickly, that we don't know ‘where to have it’. The value of commodities is the very opposite of the coarse materiality of their substance, not an atom of matter enters into its composition. Turn and examine a single commodity, by itself, as we will, yet in so far as it remains an object of value, it seems impossible to grasp it. (…) Value can only manifest itself in the social relation of commodity to commodity” (Marx 1990: 138-39). On money, as the exclusive form of appearance of value he notes: “It is the adequate form of appearance of value, that is a material embodiment of abstract and therefore equal human labour” (Marx 1990: 184). “It has become apparent in the course of our presentation that value, which appeared as an abstraction, is only possible as such an abstraction, as soon as money is posited” (Marx 1993 [Grundrisse, Penguin Classics, London]: 776). “(…) value requires above all an independent form by means of which its identity with itself may be asserted. Only in the shape of money does it possess this form. Money therefore forms the starting-point and the conclusion of every valorisation process” (Marx 1990: 255). In Marx’s system of thought, all forms of barter (or the non-monetary equilibrium systems of barter between “production sectors”, like the Sraffian “linear production systems”) should be rejected, as all exchange transactions are made up of separate acts of exchange of commodities with money, which means that commodities are by definition price-carrying products. Prices are determined in the process of commodity production, i.e. in a historically unique process of (capitalist) production-for-the-exchange, a process which unites immediate production (in the narrow sense) with circulation: “Commodities do not then assume the form of direct mutual exchangeability. Their socially validated form is a mediated one. Conversely: through the relation of all other commodities to linen fabric as the form of appearance of their value [the supposed by Marx general equivalent at that point of his analysis, J.M.], the physical form of linen material becomes the form of direct exchangeability between these commodities and all other commodities and as such their direct or general social form” (MEGA II, 5 [Das Kapital, Erster Band, Hamburg 1867 (1983), Dietz Verlag, Berlin]: 40). “The social character of labour appears as the money existence of the commodity” (Marx 1991 [Capital, Volume three, Penguin Classics, London]: 649). Even when he starts developing his theory of the value-form, he notes that in the simple value form we do not have two commodities of pre-existing (i.e. measured independently, eg. by the quantity of “labour expended” for their production) equal value exchanging with each other, but only ONE COMMODITY (relative form), whose value is measured in units of a use value (equivalent form, serving as the “measurer of value” of the commodity in the relative form): “But as soon as the coat takes up the position of the equivalent in the value expression, the magnitude of its value ceases to be expressed quantitatively. On the contrary, the coat now figures in the value equation merely as a definite quantity of some article” (Marx 1990: 147). It is however true, that in order to illustrate surplus-labour as the portion of the total labour, (the portion which is appropriated by the capitalist), Marx refers (from Chapter X, Part 3 of Volume 1 onwards) to value of a commodity as if it was in itself an empirically measurable figure, e.g. “value created by n hours of labour of average intensiveness”, “forgetting” that the labour deployed in this instance is abstract labour (a concept not to be counted among empirically tangible measures), and also “ignoring” the fact that value is measurable only by means of another “thing”, as it can be manifested (appear) only in the form of, i.e. through, the general equivalent – in other words through money, and so measured not in hours of labour time but in units of the general equivalent – precisely in units of money. This simple presentation of surplus-value as surplus-labour does not mean, however, that one shall put aside Marx’s monetary theory of value (as developed, e.g., in Parts 1, 2 & 3 [Ch. I-VII] of Volume 1 of Capital) and to treat Marx as a critical exponent of the Classical theory of value (as “labour expended”). Marx’s monetary theory of value demonstrates that value and prices are not situated at the same level of analysis. They are not commensurate i.e. qualitatively similar (and so quantitatively comparable) entities. Money is the necessary form of appearance of value (and of capital) in the sense that prices constitute the necessarily “distorted” (and only) form of appearance of the value of commodities. The difference between values and production prices (i.e. prices ensuring the average general rate of profit for the whole capitalist economy) is thus not a quantitative one, assuming that the latter simply arise from the former through a “redistribution of value among capitalists”. It is a difference between two non-commensurate and so non- comparable quantities, which are, though, intertwined in a notional link, which connects causal determinations (values) and their forms of appearance (prices). In Vol. 1, Marx utilised the notion of surplus labour in general (as equivalent to surplus value and in “abstraction” of money) only to sidestep the concealment effects of exploitation created by the money-relation. He did not adhere to the Classical notion of value as “labour expended”, at least in his great self-published work, Volume 1 of Capital. At this point I may deal with a comment made by Jerry [OPE-L:8270], who writes: “Even if one challenges whether value is measurable (as Milios et al apparently do) it does not follow that the social relation itself is intangible”. I agree that the social relation itself is “tangible”, however through (ideological and social) forms which conceal the “flow of cause and effect”, i.e. the exploitative character of this (capitalist) social relation. The reason for Marx’s analysis in Vol. 1, Ch. X onwards, of exploitation on the basis of surplus-labour, (a notion which does not reflect the specific difference of the specific mode of production under examination), and not in relation with the specific forms under which this surplus labour appears in capitalism (profit and money relations), is not a supposed “measurability” of “labour expended” in the capitalist mode of production, but the existing in it self-generating consequences of concealment of class exploitation: The subordination of labour to capital imposes the capitalist as the producer of commodities and regulates exchange ratios between commodities in accordance with production costs. Profit is thus presented as proportion of the advanced capital, so that “surplus-value itself appears as having arisen from the total capital, and uniformly from all parts of it” (Marx 1991: 267). In all modes of production there exist self-generating consequences of concealment, but their tendencies might be in opposite directions, as Marx noted with regard to capitalism and slave ownership: “In slave 1abour, even that part of the working day in which the slave is only replacing the value of his own means of existence, in which he therefore works for himself alone, appears as labour for his master. All the slave’s labour appears as unpaid labour. In wage labour, on the contrary, even surplus-labour, or unpaid labour, appears as paid. In the one case, the property-relation conceals the slave’s labour for himself; in the other case the money-relation conceals the unrequited labour of the wage labourer. (...) All the notions of justice held by both the worker and the capitalist, all the mystifications of the capitalistic mode of production, all capitalism’s illusions about freedom, all the apologetic tricks of vulgar economists, have as their basis the form of appearance discussed above, which makes the actual relation invisible, and indeed presents to the eye the precise opposite of that relation” (Marx 1990: 680). In both cases (capitalism, slave ownership) there exist in the mode of production necessary self-generating consequences of concealment, but their tendencies are in opposite directions. This is of particular importance for the political relations of domination and the formation of ideological constructs in each mode of production. It is thus a problem of a different order when Marx at certain points of Volume 3 (“transformation of values into prices of production”, “ground rent”) distances himself from the implications of his own theory (non- commensurability between value and price) and draws a quantitative comparison between values and production prices and through mathematical calculations “transforms” the former into the latter. In this way, albeit tacitly, he adopts (he retreats to) the Classic viewpoint that values are entities that are qualitatively identical and therefore quantitative comparable (i.e. commensurable) with prices. Concluding, I may say that the discussed book (KARL MARX AND THE CLASSICS) argues that in Marx’s work (mainly in Vol. 1, but also in all his major writings of the period 1857-67, etc.): a) There exists a system of notions which shapes a monetary theory of value; this theory constitutes a radical critique of (a rupture from) the Ricardian theory of value (conceived as “labour expended”). It consists the Marxian economic theory par excellence, which shall be further developed by Marxists, as it is the only theory that can critically interpret contemporary capitalism (crises, speculation, the endogeneity of money, the expansion of the monetary sphere, etc.). b) The dominant interpretation of Marx’s theory by Marxists is “Ricardian”, in the sense that it ignores Marx’s monetary approach, it misinterprets Marx’s elaborations on the basis of “surplus labour” (forgetting Marx’s warning that “capital has not invented surplus-labour”) and focusing on weak points of Marx’s argumentation, such as the “transformation of values into prices of production”. c) Marx himself retreats in the theoretical system of (Ricardian) Political Economy at several points of his work, especially when he deals with the “transformation of values into prices of production” and with “absolute ground rent”. Such ambiguities or contradictions should be expected not only for Marx but also for any attempt to create a new theoretical discipline on the basis of the critique of an established system of thought. d) Finally, the book claims that “Marxian theory is attenuated when Marxists do not comprehend Marx’s ambivalences towards Political Economy, i.e. the existence of conceptual contradictions and, much more important, of a second, non-Marxist, discourse in his writings. Every ‘sanctifying’ attitude towards Marx, presenting him, as the inculpable master who never made a single false step, practically blurs the scientific and heuristic kernel of Marx’s analysis, as it identifies it with the Ricardian element, present in some of his elaborations” (p. 208). In solidarity, John.
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